Terrorism on Trial
SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — The ideas of the 35,000-word manifesto sound dry and aloof, chilling only in the context of 17 years of periodic and deliberate violence, of widespread public fear and of individual lives changed forever.
The trial of the alleged "Unabomber" - with all its detailed evidence, legal arguments, and human drama - begins here today against a backdrop of concern over domestic terrorism in the United States.
The World Trade Center bombing trial and the second trial in the Oklahoma City bombing both continue. These seem to show that top-notch police work can solve such crimes. But neither act was prevented, and last year's bomb blast at the Atlanta Olympics remains unsolved. And it did take authorities many years to capture Theodore Kaczynski, the man authorities believe is responsible for 16 bombings that took three lives and injured another 23 people.
Despite this, experts generally agree that police and investigative agencies are doing well under the circumstances.
"I do think the government has been very competent and very efficient in its recent apprehensions," says Laurie Levenson, associate dean and professor of law at Loyola University in Los Angeles. "Still, there's so much that we don't know. It's a big country, and there are a lot of fringe people."
Among the improvements Ms. Levenson and others have observed:
* A shift in emphasis at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from simply racking up as many arrests and convictions as possible to greater emphasis on high-priority crimes, including domestic terrorism.
* More-refined responses to situations involving fringe groups. This was clear in the apprehension of the "Freemen" in Montana, following highly criticized episodes at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas.
* Better ability to infiltrate radical antigovernment groups (such as the Viper militia in Arizona) that hoard and in some cases use illegal weapons and explosives.
Such infiltrations raise questions about civil liberties, however.
"There's a fine line here between what some on the left consider to be intrusions into lawful assembly and what others on the right say are legitimate efforts by the sovereign state to defend itself against terrorism," says former United States Attorney Joseph Russoniello, who now practices law in San Francisco.
But if you recognize that you have organizations in this country that are bent "on acts of domestic terrorism, you have to have the ability to proactively deal with that, not just reactively," he adds.
In the case of Mr. Kaczynski, infiltration would have been extremely difficult. The suspect was a recluse who apparently acted without accomplices and was not part of any extremist group.
The break in the case came when The Washington Post agreed to publish the 232-point manifesto attacking industrial society. The document's author had warned of more bombings if the newspaper refused. David Kaczynski, a social worker in Schenectady, N.Y., thought he recognized his estranged brother in the writings and went to authorities.
Now, as jury selection begins in US District Judge Garland Burrell's courtroom in Sacramento, Calif., the prosecution's legal arsenal seems formidable.
Kaczynski's small cabin in the mountains of Montana was filled with bomb-making materials and equipment, plus a partially completed pipe bomb, according to the FBI. Agents say they found the typewriter used to write the manifesto, as well as a draft of the document. And perhaps most damning, they also say they found a diary in which the bombings, the reasons for them, and targeted victims were detailed.
In the case being tried here, Kaczynski faces 10 charges related to the killing of two Sacramento men (a computer-store owner in 1985 and a timber-industry lobbyist 10 years later) and the injuring of scientists at Yale University and the University of California at San Francisco. He also faces charges in the bombing death of an advertising executive in New Jersey in 1994. The federal government is seeking the death penalty for the Sacramento killings.
Kaczynski - a Harvard-educated mathematician with a genius-level IQ who once taught at UC Berkeley - has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Beyond the mounds of physical evidence said to connect the defendant to the bombings, prosecutors also must prove that Kaczynski willfully intended to harm the persons to whom the bombs were mailed.
"They have to prove a particular mental state on the part of the defendant," says Linda Carter, a former trial attorney in the US Justice Department and former public defender who now teaches at the McGeorge School of Law here.
Pretrial maneuverings by both prosecutors and Kaczynski's three court-appointed attorneys indicate the defendant's mental state will be a key issue during the trial - and, if he is convicted, especially during the penalty phase when jurors would have to decide between execution and a prison term.
Court documents show the defense intends to argue that Kaczynski's claimed mental condition - paranoid schizophrenia - means he acted because he was delusional, not because he had any criminal intent.
This is not the same thing as claiming insanity, where the defendant would have to submit to an examination by three court-appointed psychiatrists, says professor Carter, nor is it the same as arguing that the defendant is not competent to stand trial.
But Kaczynski recently refused to submit to what would have been a week-long examination by court-appointed psychiatrists. For this reason, prosecutors argue, the defense should not be allowed to present its expert testimony on Kaczynski's mental state. In other pretrial activity, Judge Burrell last week denied a request from defense attorneys to block a possible death sentence.
Prosecutors contend that the death penalty is necessary because Kaczynski represents "a continuing danger to society" with a "reckless disregard for human life."
Although the trial is likely to take months, legal experts already are speculating on the penalty phase and any possible appeal of a guilty verdict.
"If we can believe the evidence, this isn't going to be a 'who done it' like the O.J. Simpson trial It's going to be a 'why did he do it,' " says Joshua Dressler, law professor at the McGeorge School.
A guilty verdict is already something David Kaczynski has given a lot of thought to. If his older brother is convicted, he is eligible for a $1 million federal reward. But, in accepting a "Courage of Convictions" award from the upstate New York youth shelter where he worked, the younger Mr. Kaczynski recently said any reward money would go to the victims and their families.
"My mother and I respect their loss and wish to do whatever we can to ease their grief," he said.
"Someone we love went over the edge or so it seems," Mr. Kaczynski told the audience gathered to honor him. And he expressed hope that "our nation's criminal justice system will find the courage and wherewithal to take a closer, more understanding and compassionate look at the problem of mental illness."
And while some who lost loved ones or were maimed by bombs alleged to have been mailed by Theodore Kaczynski remain angry and bitter, others are not so quick to condemn - especially given the attitude expressed by the family of the alleged Unabomber.
John Hauser, severely injured in an explosion at UC Berkeley in 1985, told the Los Angeles Times last week: "What David Kaczynski did would just be heart-wrenching for any of us. So, for us to sort of turn around and say, 'Aha, gotcha! Now off with his head,' well, that sort of ignores what it must have taken for his brother to come forward."
UNABOMBER TIME LINE
The FBI has linked these attacks to the Unabomber:
May 1978: A package explodes at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., injuring one person.
May 1979: Another person is injured in an explosion at Northwestern University.
November 1979: Passengers suffer smoke inhalation when a bomb explodes in a plane's cargo hold during an American Airlines flight, forcing an emergency landing at Dulles International Airport near Washington.
June 1980: The president of United Airlines is injured at home in the Chicago area.
October 1981: A bomb is placed in a business classroom at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. No one is injured.
May 1982: One person is injured in an explosion at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.
July 1982: A bomb in the faculty lounge at the University of California, Berkeley, injures a professor.
May 1985: One person is injured by a bomb found in a computer room at the University of California, Berkeley.
June 1985: A package mailed to the Boeing company in Auburn, Wash., is safely disarmed.
November 1985: Two people are injured by a package bomb mailed to a professor at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
December 1985: A bomb kills the owner of a computer rental store in Sacramento, Calif.
February 1987: A man is injured by a bomb left behind a computer store in Salt Lake City.
June 1993: A geneticist at the University of California, San Francisco, is injured by a bomb sent to his home.
June 1993: A Yale University computer scientist is injured in his office.
December 1994: An advertising executive is killed by a bomb sent to his North Caldwell, N.J., home.
April 1995: The president of the California Forestry Association is killed opening a mail bomb in the group's Sacramento headquarters.